SpeedWeek 2016 in Review:
The 68th Annual Bonneville SpeedWeek is now in the annals of history, and the Carbinite Metal Coatings Land Speed Racing team is back in Pennsylvania safe and sound. But unfortunately without the big trophy for the record in our class, AA/BGS.
The week was full of ups and downs, challenges and triumphs, team building and problem solving. Our adventure began on Wednesday, August 10th with 5 members of the Carbiliner 496 Blown Gas Streamliner crew leaving Western PA for the ~ 2000 mile trip to Wendover, Nevada. We had hoped for a two day trip but blown tires, traffic jams, water pump failures, and weather issues delayed the caravan’s arrival until late Friday evening. The Cummins Ram pulled the 30-foot trailer with the Carbiliner, while the Yukon Denali pulled the smaller enclosed trailer with all our gear. Our photographer friends from Canada joined the caravan as well. It was interesting to see Social Media posts from folks outside of our little team who happened upon the Carbiliner on the highway. It certainly generates a great deal of interest!
The crew was exhausted by the time they reached Wendover, but they did a great job and really pulled their weight. Four members of the crew, including the driver, flew in on Thursday. Five more team members from various parts of the country arrived at different times during the week. And we managed to find two fans who joined the team and blessed us greatly!
Saturday morning started with arrival on the Salt, where the crew split in order to set up the pits and get through registration. After the driver’s meeting, tech inspection was a challenge. We did not have documentation that our fire extinguishers were recently serviced. Of course, those are all the way in the front of the nose cone. We had to take the car back to the pits, remove the nose cone, and have the SCTA staff finalize their inspection in our pits. It took all day, but the crew managed to get the car ready for the last run of the day. Rob, the driver, had one more pass for his unlimited license, and we did not want to push too hard the first run, so we opted to run only 4 of the 5 available miles on the course. Our Mile 4 speed was 339.299 mph, just a little shy of the record of 348 for our class.
Brandon, our crew chief, made the decision to sleep in on Sunday and have breakfast together as a team. This was a great idea as it helped everyone to relax and unwind before another long day on the hot, dry salt. We wrenched through the afternoon and ran the full 5 miles later in the day. Mile 5 speed was 362.153 mph! This was enough for the record, but our challenges were not over. A paperwork error had the Carbiliner listed as “time only” rather than as AA/BGS. We headed to impound anyway, and worked with the wonderful Mr. Dan Warner from the SCTA who was able to eventually resolve the issue.
During SpeedWeek, when a car runs a speed greater than the existing record, it goes to impound and the team has 4 hours to work on the car. The team has to transfer its pits to impound and get moving, 4 hours is not much time! Great friends, Ray Vinson and Ron Allison, who have supported Carbinite Metal Coatings and the Carbiliner for many years, provided the team with dinner while in impound. The team must be back on the Salt by 6am the next day for another hour of prep without the light or warmth of the sun. Out of impound, hit the fuel stop, 70+ pounds of ice to the innercooler, and on the line by 7am to “back up” the previous run. If the average between those two runs is greater than the existing record, a new record is awarded.
Our Monday back-up run ended in disappointment. A freak electrical issue caused the transmission to stick in neutral. Both the wing and the shifter were on the same circuit and blew a fuse. It took a while to discover and solve that issue. In the process, we also found a header crack that could have been even more of a disaster. Another team loaned their welder to fix the header. The crew gave it their all, but we were not able to run again that evening.
Tuesday, another record run of 363.115 mph. Back to impound. This is where our newest team members really shined. As soon as they heard our speed, and despite wanting to watch some other cars run, they headed to the pits and had our equipment in impound even before the Carbiliner! Four hours of work, back to the Salt at 6:00 Wednesday morning, another hour of work, another fuel stop, more ice, another disappointment. This time a suspension issue caused the front end to drop and drag so hard that it tripped the inertia switch that feeds the electric fuel pumps, shutting down the engine. That is only supposed to happen if the car crashes.
The remainder of Wednesday was spent repairing the fiberglass on the nose cone, analyzing engine data as it wasn’t performing as we would like, cleaning salt from every orifice on the car, and various other necessary procedures.
Thursday morning. Back for more! We were able to use our once-daily 300 mph “fast pass” and run without waiting in the very long lines of excited but exhausted racers. Mile 5 speed of 369.621 mph with an exit speed of 373.980 mph, our fastest speed of the entire event! Yeah, baby! Or not…. The Carbiliner chase crew arrived just in time to see water pouring out of the exhaust. Not exactly what we wanted to see after a great run. Back to impound. We hoped it wasn't as bad as it looked, but after an hour of inspection it was obvious the motor was severely damaged. The team leaders and crew discussed all possibilities, and decided it was too much to either fix the motor or replace it with the spare. We did not have enough time in impound, which meant we would have had to work all night in the hotel parking lot and then run record speeds immediately back-to-back on Friday (the last day of the event). We decided to call it a week. Great time for a photo shoot and some team building time at the local eateries.
Friday we cleaned our pit, repacked the trailers, and sent the road crew on its long journey home. Various team members flew or drove back over the next two days. At the airport and on the plane, Rob obsessed over the data logs, trying to find the engine problem and diagnose the lack of horsepower. Only after the Carbiliner was back in Pennsylvania and the motor was dismantled did we find the cause of the gushing water. There was a leak in the coolant system that opened up on that last run leading to the lack of horsepower we were seeing all week, as well as numerous other issues.
While we did not officially “back up” the record and were not awarded the big trophy, the Carbiliner’s first official SpeedWeek was, in our opinion, a big success. We were in impound three different times, and we ran speeds higher than the existing record even with a lame motor.
We had been plagued by various problems during test and dyno sessions that can finally be deemed resolved! Many thanks to Scott Sakuta and Steve Rouillard of Delta Gear (Livonia, MI) for designing and building a super strong bottom shaft for the rear end. Prior transmission issues were successfully diagnosed and fixed by John McConnell of T.M.C. (Pittsburgh, PA). Both companies deserve an A+ for their contributions to SpeedWeek.
The crew worked together like the proverbial well-oiled machine. We cannot say enough about their hard work, dedication, enthusiasm, and expertise. They worked from early morning to late in the evening in difficult conditions without complaint. This endeavor would not be possible without our crew. We missed the crew that had to remain behind for various reasons, and hope they can attend next year. The Carbinite Metal Coatings family cannot be thanked enough for their support on this project. Their work and dedication has made this all possible as well, and they held down the fort superbly during SpeedWeek. Thank you!
We’ve discovered that everything has to align perfectly, not once but twice, for a successful record. If it were easy, everyone would do it. We have learned to be patient and approach this goal just like we were eating an elephant. One bite at a time!
Carbiliner on-site crew from the left:
Front row: Ted, Scott, Jon, Fred, Sue, Rob, Brandon, Bruce, Josh.
Rear row: Ryan, Andy, Ted, Tom.
Not shown: Eric, Barb, and Jimmy.